Thursday, June 28, 2007

Welcome to Singapore!

Locals complained the line uttered by Chow Yun Fat in Pirates 3 is inaccurate, since during that time Singapore was called Temasek. Er, it's a movie about pirates.

Singapore (or, Singapura) is Malay for ''Lion City''. Legend has it some prince in the 6th century saw a lion here. Since there are no lions in this part of the world i assume the nice prince was herbally medicated, something you can not do in modern Singapore under penalty of death.

My first trip to the Lion City was brief - just 3 days - thanks to the invitation by the government to speak about comics. But what I really want to talk about is food and misconceptions.

Something to know first - Singapore is a city/state (like, er, Rome when it was Rome) of 4 1/2 million people squeezed into a tiny island barely visible on the map. A British colony since 1819 and independent since 1965, it fits snugly between Indonesia and Malaysia and it's population is a mixture of ethnic Chinese (mostly hakka), Malay, Indonesian and Indian. It has 4 official languages - english, chinese, malay & tamil.

This blend of people has a profound impact on its food, which is very spicy and draws its influence from many culture. The best spot to eat local food is at ''hawker centers'', which are structures built to house the street food vendors and here you will find national dishes such as Chili Crab (fat crab stewed in a rich & savory chili sauce), Chicken Rice (broiled chicken and broth flavored jasmine rice and 3 kinds of dipping sauce), Laksa (literally, ''stuff'' - a bowl of seemingly left overs) and Grilled Stingray (meat is tender and flaky, reminds me of halibut but less fatty). Freshly squeezed sugarcane juice helps to wash down the food. The variety & intensity of the flavors is really quite remarkable. Love the food!

Before this trip my only image of Singapore is its street are clean and it's illegal to chew gum. Wrong! Singapore is really not that different than other major southeast asia cities like Bangkok or Hong Kong. It is hot, humid, congested and yes, the streets have garbage, people smoke everywhere and even (!) jaywalk. This was a relief as I was afraid to go to jail for wearing unclean jeans.

Verdict - great food, very friendly people, excellent opportunity to mingle with multiple Asian ethnic groups at once. The place is small enough to do in 3 days so would be a nice stop as part of another trip. I'll definitely be back to eat chili crab and visit my new friends.


Post a Comment

<< Home